Maggie Robinson
Dec
2
2017
Free Christmas Read 2017

Set in the Cotswold Confidential world, I hope you enjoy this scene written just for YOU!

Cassandra Brooks stared at the last sweet roll on the plate. The rolls had been a Christmas gift from her neighbor Mrs. Grace, and Cassie had eaten all but one in one sitting.

She shouldn’t eat another. If she did, it meant waking up Christmas morning with…nothing to eat, besides no presents. Oh, there was tea and a heel of bread from a four-day-old loaf, and the promise of dinner at the vicarage. She was to be taken in with all the other strays by Reverend Fitzmartin and his wife, and possibly poisoned. Mrs. Fitzmartin’s eyesight was failing and she often added ingredients that shouldn’t be added. Cassie would make sure she got there hours early to help the vicar’s wife and save souls in her own way.

Cassie was living in disgrace. Her step-father had betrayed Puddling-on-the-Wold and all its inhabitants by selling a story to a newspaper. It revealed in great detail the exploits of one Lord Robert “Robin” Ferrars, the Guest in Primrose Cottage. Lord Robert was the youngest son of the Duke of Harford and since he’d arrived, he’d done everything in his power to escape. Climbing over the locked gates, splashing through Puddling Stream, sneaking onto the Sykes estate and trying to leave by the main road. Mr. Sykes had somehow quashed the story, but he’d turned out Cassie’s step-father as well. So now she lived alone in the tiny weaver’s cottage that had belonged to her maternal great-grandparents before Puddling became the Resort of Last Resort.

Before he’d left, her step-father had taken all of the family’s Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation allowance, and Cassie’s own savings besides. She had not breathed a word to anyone, too ashamed of him for biting the hand that fed them both. Quarterly payments were due in the new year, which wasn’t so very far off. She could manage.

Somehow.

The village was unique—by simply living here and assisting with the various Guests who came to stay and stabilize themselves, each resident shared in the Foundation’s earnings and investments. There were some drawbacks, of course, keeping strict confidentiality being one of them. Sometimes the bakery closed when a Guest was over-fond of sweets and needed to shed a few stone, and the pub was now an old folks’ center which served nothing stronger than coffee. Because Cassie had been born here, she was automatically eligible for her stipend.
Her step-father, however, had been born in Birmingham, and had never fit in. He’d become increasingly hostile once Cassie’s mother died last year, and now was barred from the community.

Cassie could not say she missed him. He had been a harsh man, an indifferent father and unfaithful husband. He’d have to make his own way in the world now without the support of the Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation, and good riddance. She had forgiven him as she’d been instructed to do by the Reverend Fitzmartin, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be under the same roof.

But…Cassie really was hungry. She reached toward the frosted roll—

And heard a noise outside in the back garden. She rushed to the kitchen window, expecting to find her cat Mephisto with an unfortunate bird in his mouth. That was one treat she could happily decline. Instead she saw a young man, who ducked beneath the window ledge at the sight of her.

Lord Robert.

She threw open the door. “What are you doing hiding in my garden?”

“Shh! They’re after me. May I come in?”

“Certainly not.” She wasn’t going to get kicked out of Puddling like her step-father.

“Please. It’s very cold. And I have sandwiches.”

Cassie argued with herself for all of twenty seconds. She snatched the canvas bag from her uninvited Guest and spread the bounty on the scrubbed pine table.

He did indeed have sandwiches. Two ham and three chicken on his housekeeper Mrs. Kelvin’s wholemeal bread, plus a thick wedge of cheddar, an apple, half a fruitcake, an unpeeled carrot, and a handful of walnuts in their shells.

“I’ve been hoarding for the past few days,” Lord Robert said. “But I don’t mind sharing. I’ll never get out of here today anyway. I think it’s going to snow.”

Cassie poured him a glass of water. She rather liked the idea of a white Christmas. “Why do you want to?”

“I shouldn’t be here! My father is angry because I want to be a clergyman. He wants me to go into the army instead. He thought if I was sent here I’d get bored and come to my senses, but if anything my faith gets stronger day by day. I definitely do not want to shoot people—I want to help them. And I very much enjoy my daily talks with Mr. Fitzmartin.”

“He’s a nice old man,” Cassie agreed, biting into a ham sandwich. God bless pigs. Chickens, too.

“He’s invited me for Christmas lunch after the service tomorrow.”

“Oh! I’m going also.”

He held out a hand. “What’s your name? I’m called Robin.”

“Cassie,” Cassie said, once she’d finished chewing. “Can’t Mr. Fitzmartin put in a good word for you?”

“I think he’s afraid to. My father is a duke, you know.”

“Yes, but you could do a sort of apprenticeship with the vicar if your father won’t pay for divinity studies, and then take over the parish when Mr. Fitzmartin retires.” As he should do soon—the man and his wife were as old as Mr. and Mrs. Methuselah. “With your background, you’d be the perfect person to understand what some of our Guests go through.”

“My word! That’s an excellent idea! Then I wouldn’t have to keep running away. And I could get to know you better.”

Cassie blushed. Could she be a vicar’s wife? Only time would tell.

Jan
7
2017
Recs!

I’m thrilled that the Amazon Editors have selected Schooling the Viscount to be one of the Best Books of the Month in romance, calling it “hilarious.” I’ll take it! It’s also the Lyrical staff rec of the month, “filled with a ton of madcap humor and an equal measure of heart. This new series has it all—laughter, deep emotion, love, and tears. You will be transported to Victorian England, so if you’re up for an armchair travel this winter, this is the book for you!” Early Goodreads reviews are pretty positive too. So while I’m trapped at the end of a snowy drive in the middle of the woods in Maine, I am warmed by the energy and enthusiasm of readers and reviewers! Thank you, thank you!

Oct
7
2016
With a Little Help from my Friends

Welcome to Serenity Harbor will be out soon! Ten Maine romance authors and their friends have contributed to this anthology, and have delivered a peek into the Pine Tree State of Mind! Isn’t the cover lovely?serenity-harbor-sample-4 My contribution: “Love in the Library”

Rob Campion is a male librarian who believes in literature with a capital L. Belle Standish is a female romance writer who doesn’t believe in love anymore. When they spend a night with the lights out, will they wake up on the same page?

Feb
9
2016
Vive la France!

The third book in the Ladies Unlaced series, The Reluctant Governess, has broken into the Top 100 Kindle books on Amazon France. Artist Nick and his reluctant governess Eliza are tickled pink. Les Couleurs d’Eliza is currently #4 in historical romances!eliza french

Dec
8
2015
2015 Free Christmas Read

duel champagneWhen Dani from Ramblings from This Chick assigned me my topic for her annual historical writers’ event, I admit I was a little hesitant. Most of my stories are humorous historicals, with no bloodshed involved. Dueling pistols? Swords? Fruitcake at fifty paces? I hope you’ll like the weapon I chose.

This original scene stars three old friends, and the young woman they all love. Enjoy! And have the happiest of holidays!

December 24, 1820

The Long Gallery was pitch-dark, but that wasn’t going to stop him. One way or another, Antony Howe was going to win.

Once, Bastian had been his best friend. They had been sent down from Oxford together and enjoyed all the prerequisites of young bucks on the town. They were carefree. Convivial. Unencumbered by the constraints of society.

No longer.

Tony’s aim was as good as the next man’s—he’d been practicing since his school days. With a sufficient brace of candles to illuminate the room and his acute eyesight, he was prepared to target his enemy and vanquish him here tonight.

There would be a mess, of course, but that’s what servants were for.

He supposed his rage wasn’t appropriate for the Christmas season, but he was sick of Bastian and all he stood for now. He’d been a boon companion, but since he’d inherited, a stick was rammed so firmly up his—

Well, he shouldn’t be vulgar. Lily didn’t like it. But there was no question the man needed a comeuppance, and Tony was just the man to give it to him.

And then, Lily would be his, even if he had to flee the country with her.

***

Lord Sebastian Markham took his duty to his family seriously. Now that he was a newly-minted viscount, his sister Lily’s future and well-being were entrusted to his care. To think that Tony, idiot Tony, thought he deserved to even kiss his baby sister’s fingertips was an abomination. Bastian had known Tony since they were both in leading-strings, and he wouldn’t give the kitchen cat to him. He was fine as a friend, someone to go out drinking and gambling and whoring with, but as a brother-in-law?

Absolutely, positively not.

And anyway, the drinking and the gambling and the whoring had come to a complete stop. The Markham estate was in tatters, and if it hadn’t been for Charlie Wentworth’s sage advice, Bastian might be in the Fleet right now.

“Do you have the weapons?” Bastian asked his valet.

The man nodded. “Are you quite sure you want to do this, my lord? It’s Christmas Eve.”

“No matter what day or night it is, it must be done.”

“Couldn’t you just ask Mr. Howe to leave?”

“That would be too simple. I want him wounded. Neutralized. The cheek of him to offer for Lily!”

“Indeed, my lord. Whatever you say, my lord,” the valet said, crossing his fingers behind his back.

***

Five minutes later, a rap at the door interrupted Lily’s nightly hairbrushing. She was proud of her hair, a spun-gold mass that seemed to fascinate a certain gentleman. Lily smiled, thinking of that man.

He was…perfect. She’d known him forever, but he’d never been more than brotherly toward her until her come-out last spring. And then, so slowly, so casually, he’d made her fall in love with him.

It wasn’t because he was the handsomest of Bastian’s friends, for he wasn’t. But he was steady and solid and Lily knew she’d never have to worry again. There had been a lot of worrying, what with their grandfather and guardian dying this summer and poor Bastian inheriting. The estate had been left in a bit of a mess, though Bastian told her things were improving.

Thanks to Lily’s gentleman. And when that gentleman looked at her, really looked at her with his smoldering dark eyes, Lily’s stomach did a little flip and something odd happened to her insides.

“Come.”

Bastian’s valet stood in the doorway, blushing and averting his face from Lily’s unbound hair and frilly dressing gown.

“I think you should come to the Long Gallery, Miss Lily,” he said to the lamp. “Your brother and Mr. Howe are about to fight a duel, and I think under the conditions—”

“What?” Lily shrieked. She dropped her hairbrush and ran barefoot down the stairs, barreling straight into Charlie on the landing. Mr. Charles Christopher John Wentworth, heir to the Marquess of Rushton. She’d written his name forty-seven times in her diary tonight until her hand cramped. He stopped her from toppling over the banister and held her for perhaps a moment too long.

“Lily, my dear, what is wrong?”

“It’s Bastian and Tony,” she said breathlessly. “They’re going to kill each other!”

“Doubtful.”

“But they’re dueling!”

His lips quirked. “Are they?”

She pounded a small fist on his chest. Under ordinary circumstances, she liked looking at his smiling mouth very much. Liked kissing it too, although Charlie had been too honorable and somewhat stingy with his kisses, treating her as if she was made out of fine china.

She wasn’t. And she was looking forward to proving that on her wedding night.

“How can you think this amusing, Charlie? Oh, what if we’re too late? It’s Christmas! They can’t kill each other at Christmas—it will ruin the holiday for everyone.”

“Horrors. No fruitcake or figgy pudding. Nothing but funeral meats. We will stop them, never fear. I knew I should have spoken to Bastian first.”

Lily shook her head. “I’m not some mare to be negotiated over at Tattersall’s. I’m glad you spoke to me first!” She was the one to be married, after all. Lily touched the diamond ring which hung on a silver chain around her neck. Charlie had given it to her this afternoon beneath the mistletoe.

The engagement was secret, only until Charlie had the chance to make his case to her brother tomorrow after church and before Christmas lunch. Bastian couldn’t possibly refuse. Charlie was…perfect.

“Where is this duel?”

“The Long Gallery.” She wrenched herself out of Charlie’s arms and dashed down a dim hallway, Charlie right behind her.

They entered the middle of the room which was ablaze with candelabrum and lit sconces. Centuries of Markhams looked gloomily on the proceedings from the walls. Standing at one end was Bastian, wearing a fierce scowl aimed at his oldest friend Tony Howe. Tony glared back, until he caught sight of Lily.

“Charlie, this is no place for a young lady. Take her away,” he growled.

Bastian turned. “Lily! What are you doing here?”

“I live here. And I’ve come to stop you from making fools of yourselves.”

“Too late,” Charlie murmured. “I see you boys are up to your old tricks. What are the stakes?”

Lily gasped. “They’ve done this before?”

“Oh, yes. I have, too.” Charlie walked over, picked up a roll from the basket by Bastian’s feet and lobbed it across the room. Tony ducked, and the roll splattered against the fireplace screen, showering crumbs on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Lily cried.

“Dueling with dinner rolls. Doesn’t everybody?”

“R-rolls?” Lily stuttered. They were throwing bread at one another? She’d nearly had an apoplexy running down here thinking she’d find bloodied and broken bodies on the carpet.

“Did you think they’d use pistols, my love? Even they are not such half-wits.”

Bastian bristled. “I’ll have you know…wait a second. What is this ‘my love’ business?”

“Your sister agreed to make me the happiest of men today, Bastian. Forgive me for not asking your permission.”

“You want to marry Lily?” Tony sounded dumbfounded.

“It’s not as if I am such an ugly old crone, Tony,” Lily snapped. “Some people appreciate me.” Tony had behaved very oddly lately, tripping over his feet and tongue every time she was in a room with him, as if she was a two-headed stranger.

“You had better not have ‘appreciated’ her too much, Wentworth,” her brother said, arming himself with a roll.

“Don’t be silly. Charlie has been a perfect gentleman. Just…perfect.”

“Aargh.” Tony collapsed on a chair, his hands over his ears.

“Sorry, old friend,” Charlie shouted. He must be hoping to break through the barrier. But why he should be sorry was a mystery to Lily. He hadn’t come close to hitting Tony with that roll.

She took one from the basket and contemplated throwing it at one of the young men who had caused her such consternation of Christmas Eve, a night of peace and joy. Instead, she took a bite, wishing she had some butter. She’d been much too excited to taste anything tonight at dinner.

Charlie loved her! It was the best Christmas present in the world.

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